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About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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Brain Waves

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January 12, 2004

Memory Erasure Inc. Goes Public

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Regret a past decision? Have a broken heart? Addicted to food?

A recently launched company claims to have "a simple, non-surgical technique to remove problem memories." Apparently, "the technique deconstructs memory from its core making a relapse virtually impossible."

While Hollywood stretches its imagination to shock society with the concept of memory erasure in futuristic films, like Paycheck with Ben Affleck and Jim Carrey's Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind, reality seems to be in hot pursuit.

Regardless of this company's claims, do you have the "right to erase your memories"?

While freedom of speech (and the right not to speak) is protected by the U.S. Constitution, freedom of thought is not explicity protected. So, do U.S. citizens have the right to erase their memories? Is freedom of thought a fundamental human right?

What if Andrew Fastow, Enron's CFO, erased his memory? Would this be good for business, let alone society? How would you be able to trust anyone? Would people (or companies and governments) expect you to take a blood test or a brain scan to help determine your trustworthiness?

Who owns your memories? Do you have cognitive liberty or not? Clearly, the battle for your mind is heating up fast. (More neuroethics on Brain Waves)

Comments (10) | Category: Neuroethics


COMMENTS

1. Richard Glen Boire on January 13, 2004 9:50 AM writes...

Hi Zack -

Ha Ha.

Lacuna Inc. is a hoax. It's part of the very clever marketing campaign for the soon-to-be released movie "Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind." Google the movie and then watch the trailer to confirm.

Nonetheless, memory erasing is on the way for real. It is already drawing opposition. The President's Council on Bioethics discusses it in their recent Beyond Therapy report, and it's even possible that they will recommend a ban on it, as they recently did with cloning even for biomedical research.

The CCLE is, of course, against such a ban. Drug prohibition is bad policy.

--Richard Glen Boire
Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE)
www.cognitiveliberty.org

"Keeping freedom in Mind."


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2. Zack Lynch on January 13, 2004 10:25 AM writes...

Of course it was a joke (hence not naming the company). I couldn't resist using it to make the point that cognitive liberty (as you know) is an unmapped issue. Cheers.

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3. coolmel on January 15, 2004 9:40 AM writes...

hoax, yes.

but "when" it becomes possible then here are just some things to consider:

1) will erasing memories of traumas contribute to a more healthy individual?

2) if i commit a crime and i erase my memory. didi i still commit the crime? punishing me will have no significance as far as i'm concerned. hence, no lessons learned.

memory serves a purpose. it is the mechanism in which sentient beings learn. tampering with it is as delicate as tampering with our genes.

the right to erase memory, should it become available should be treated as the same way as manipulating the genes (imho).

however, banning memory will be the same as banning cloning. once it becomes available. heaven help us all ;)

happy new year.

Permalink to Comment

4. valis on January 30, 2004 2:47 PM writes...

from an internet forum:

"Zach is writing from that detestable position that, any right not specificaly stated in the bill of rights is up to the government. This would be drivel for classroom discussion in today's school. The parrot spouting orwell speak to the children, speaking of choices and rights, all the while entrenching minds with their pathetic memes. "

Thoughts?

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5. Philip Dhingra on January 31, 2004 1:56 PM writes...

With regards to Andrew Fastow being able to erase his memory, I'd say why not? We have the 5th Amendment anyways to protect us from speaking.

Another interesting question would be if someone could erase the memory of a prison sentence, it sure would reduce whatever rehabilitative effects prison might provide (if any).

Permalink to Comment

6. patrick on April 27, 2004 5:51 PM writes...

This is an interesting concept (memory erasure)but it's disheartening to see so many people against the possibility. I, being a selfish person, hope to use it for mine own benefit one day. It should be my right...It's my mind. If someone's memory is currently playing a significant role in ongoing legalities (Andrew Fastow, etc.) or other realms, then put a "temporary erasure restraining" on that person. Don't ruin it for all of us because of a few bad eggs. Hell, the automobile directly helps to kill tens of thousands a year...Do we really want to get rid of it?

There's a lot of things I want to forget. Bring on memory erasure.

Permalink to Comment

7. mari on May 24, 2004 11:49 PM writes...

I would pay almost anything, to erase a certain memory of my past. It was an awful time of my life and I learned some painful lessons from it. I've tried to close that door and move on, remember instead that I am a different person today, but I still wish many days that I could move to the moon! Even though the memory has outlived its purpose, it's there like a sore that won't heal, and I don't want it or need it anymore, thank you. Shame only brings one down, because it's a very heavy load. Does time really heal? This time, I don't know... We pay to heal our bodies, why should we not pay to heal our mind and soul? I too say, bring it on! I'll try anything...

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8. Jenn on September 7, 2004 2:40 PM writes...

I agree... a memory of my past has been haunting me for years. I can't sleep at night... I wake up from nightmares in a pool of sweat and everytime I see something that reminds me of that event in my life I have a panic attack. Otherwise, I am a totally normal human being. I've been researching to see if there is anything to help me. Possibly hypnosis. I don't know who to contact. This is not a memory that I could possibly learn and benefit from. Any ideas?

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9. josh on September 27, 2004 6:34 PM writes...

I am highly intreasted in erasing something from my mind. I do have a broken heart. Im tired of loving someone who can never love me. Please send me info on where i can go or do to get these memories gone. I have seen eternal sunshine but I still want too loose the pain!! Please help!

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10. Patricia on October 20, 2004 8:40 PM writes...

Actually, this is a very real possibility. I've just come from watching the news and there as of right now an experimental pill used on those with who have just experienced a traumatic incident. The pill is suppose to suppress the hormones that imprint the recent memory into your brain. A sort of memory weakener.

I'm... sort of against it. Given i've just heard of it, I haven't given it some thought but I've always seen memories as the factor that shapes me and my decisions. There are many things I wish I could forget, lies, heartbreaks, broken families, betrayals... But in retrospect, haven't I gained something? A lesson from all of this?

I (and probably everyone else in this world, for I haven't met anyone without regrets) have things that we so desperately want to just ignore, want to numb the pain that still comes now and again, but isn't that exact pain the factor that makes me who I am? As lovely and wonderful as that is, not feeling and remembering the pain of memories, would just reduce the effect of the lesson it had on me as well.

But you know what? Whatever floats your boat.

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